Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
The English courts system has developed slowly over centuries and still shows many signs of its history but in recent decades there have been several major changes and in the past few years the pace of reform has quickened.
Up to 1979 the courts, other than the magistrates' courts, had been run by the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD). In that year their administration was transferred to an executive agency called the Court Service. That agency was responsible for the functioning of the Supreme Court of England and Wales (comprising the Court of Appeal, the High Court and the Crown Court), county courts and seven tribunals. The running of the magistrates' courts was not included. They were run by local committees under the general supervision of the Home Office until 1991 and since that date by the LCD.
In 2001, in his Review of the Criminal Courts System, Lord Justice Auld recommended a ‘single and nationally funded administrative structure, but one providing significant local autonomy and accountability’. This proposal was accepted by Government. The Courts Act 2003 made the necessary statutory changes to allow for the creation of Her Majesty's Courts Service (HMCS) as a new executive agency with some 20,000 staff. (Bringing the magistrates' courts into the national system doubled the complement of staff.) The change took effect in April 2005. HMCS is accountable to the Lord Chancellor/Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs.